Basics of an effective management style

By John Langhorne / Guest Editorial

It is clear that some management practices are winners whereas other are losers. Many of us have had the opportunity to work for the “manager from hell,” and such a person’s dysfunctional characteristics are well understood. Examining these is a valuable exercise in reviewing and further enhancing our own management styles.

There are three core characteristics that contribute significantly to the poor performance of any person in the workplace, and this is particularly so for managers who use these practices. Poor managers tend to be:

Secretive. Secrecy is a canker that eats the soul out of organizations. It breeds distrust, fear and paranoia. Secrecy as a management practice gives rise to the view among employees that the organization practices “mushroom management” (I must be a mushroom, people keep me in the dark and feed me BS).

We know that the grapevine is a sensitive measure of the emotional tone of the organization and that effective managers are always sensing the state of the grapevine. An organization that is secretive has a grapevine that is very negative. Such a grapevine will be filled with vicious gossip, innuendo and unkind speculation about people and the company.

Punitive. I once worked with a manager whose basic philosophy of dealing with people seemed to be “never let a cheap shot pass.” Such a person is very difficult to work with and has a powerfully negative effect on our self-confidence. She was one of those ultra-critical persons who communicated to people that every piece of work they did was inadequate. If you work for such a person, not only does your self-esteem decline, but you also begin to question the worth of everything you do.

Unpredictable. It is possible to develop strategies to cope with secretive or punitive management styles. However, the most destructive management style in the workplace is unpredictability. Regardless of the personal and professional strategies we develop to cope with inconsistency, it is impossible to learn the rules of behavior because they are always changing.

In interviews with employees, they often report that the hardest type of manager to work for is one where each morning you have to assess, “What mood is s/he in today?” Human beings are creatures of habit and as such we need consistency in our both our personal and professional lives. Unpredictable behaviors render people helpless because they cannot develop ways of gaining control over their environments.

In developing an effective management style it is important to formulate a basic principle for communication. One that I encourage managers to consider is: “The better informed people are, the better they function.” Practicing such an open communication style sends a powerful positive message to your people about your level of respect for them and indirectly invites their input into issues and decisions.

It is difficult to build people up by tearing them down with criticism. Is there such a thing as constructive criticism? Many employees think not. Learning how to coach, council, train and mentor people is an essential skill for effective, respected managers. Yet most employees note that the only time they hear from the boss is when it’s bad news.

Monitoring our own behavior is the key to maintaining consistency or predictability in the workplace. One of the most effective tools for doing this is the say/do ratio: I will do what I say, I will do it when I say I will do it. Do not over-promise and under-deliver. People are very sensitive to the say/do ratio and do not respect or trust people with low ratios.

Over the years of working in organizations I have compiled a list of managerial practices that employees find disrespectful:

• Sarcasm (Latin root – “tearing flesh”)

• Not listening, ignoring

• Sniping (talking about someone when you should be talking to them)

• Punishing or writing policies for “all” for one person’s misbehavior

• Breaking confidence

• Asking for input when the decision has been made or on trivial decisions

• Not explaining why

• Writing a policy to solve a problem

• Coming to meetings late

• Multi-tasking or side-talking during a meeting

• Email offenses too many to enumerate

Research shows that the immediate manager has the greatest impact on employee attitudes and performance. Consistently showing respect for your people is a sure winner. Remember, as manager, it is far more important that your people respect you than like you.



John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates www.langhorneassociates. His most recent book Beyond IQ: Practical Steps To Find the Best You is available digitally at Amazon.